The most familiar models for the presidential-campaign book fall into two categories. There’s the Theodore White model: judicious, sober, fact-based. And the Hunter S. Thompson model: injudicious, unsober, fantasy-based — but hilarious.
Now there has emerged a third model; call it the “Jimmy Choos be damned” style, after the method deployed by NBC’s Katy Tur in her book “Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History.”
Tur, and to a lesser extent Amy Chozick, the New York Times reporter and author of “Chasing Hillary: Ten Years, Two Presidential Campaigns and One Intact Glass Ceiling,” come up against the same problem: Much of the work they did on the campaign trail no longer matters.
Tur’s endless TV “hits” about whatever nutty thing Donald Trump said on any given day and Chozick’s retelling of what Hillary Clinton said at the UN press conference about her e-mail scandal don’t add anything to the store of knowledge.
Both report that men working for the candidates said sleazy things to them — but neither wants to burn a source, so no names are named. Both report that media people were jumping into bed with one another, but again they conceal identities.
Both promise inside dish about the inner workings of the campaigns, but the fresh information in Chozick’s book could have fit in a chapter or two. Tur has almost none to offer along these lines except for things Trump said to her, which amounts to the usual fact-challenged braggadocio he says whenever he opens his mouth, plus unsurprising attempts to charm Tur into treating him fairly.
Both reporters, then, resort to padding their books with the answer to a question not many were asking: What’s it like to be you?
They give us page after page telling us about their French boyfriend (Tur) or Irish husband (Chozick), about their childhood and fears of missing out on motherhood (Chozick) or their parents and use of Tinder (Tur).
Both fear they aren’t good enough or that they’ll be scooped by female colleagues. They tell us about their hair (Chozick frets that hers is too curly) and their makeup (Tur is forever putting some on).
In a dramatic episode early in her book that takes place in July 2015, Tur learns that her scheduled interview with Trump will take place not at 2 p.m. but at 10 a.m. She receives this news at 7:45 a.m. Emergency! However will she make it?
Tur: “It’s now 9:10 A.M. My interview is a sit-down at the bar in Trump Tower. It’s just six blocks away from the office so I walk over. Jimmy Choos be damned.”
Another time she tells us her shoes got ruined in the rain. What does this have to do with the presidential campaign?
Both Chozick and Tur seem on the verge of a breakdown from exhaustion most of the time. “I’m never going on vacation,” writes Tur as the prospect of Trump winning on Election Night grows. “I’m never seeing my friends. I’m never getting my bed back.”
The tone throughout both books is, can you believe what I had to put up with? As though one of the journalism industry’s premier assignments — covering the presidential campaign of a major party’s nominee — was something anyone “had to” do.
At least they’re frank about their motives: Chozick, who has been a Hillary Clinton fangirl since first approaching the great lady as a teenager in 1996, wanted to be present for the making of the first woman president. Tur just wanted to be on TV.
“It would be nice to get some TV time” is Tur’s reaction when she’s told to cover Trump full time in 2015, which comes as she’s been thinking, “I’ve been on TV for nine years, but no one knows who I am.”
Picture a post-Super Bowl wrap-up in which Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels tell you about all the hassles they had to go through to get to the stadium and you’ll have some sense of how jarring these books sound whenever they veer off-topic, which is frequently.
Chozick rambles on about what it’s like to drive through Iowa in the winter, and Tur builds an entire chapter around that one time she got stuck in traffic on the way to LaGuardia Airport and barely made her plane. It turns out that this is an entire week before the Iowa caucuses. At worst, she would have missed a couple of chances to be on TV.
Memo to the next great political satirist: Get on a presidential campaign with an eye toward compiling stories about the solipsism and vanity of the reporters. And don’t be shy about telling us who’s sleeping with whom.
Kyle Smith is critic-at-large at National Review.
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